Rope Courses

Rope Courses
By Chew Wei Guan

Ropes courses include both the low elements, either can be grounded or a few feet off the ground, and the high elements that are set up on trees or poles with the need of safety devices and belaying.

The history of rope courses can stretch back as far as the Ancient Greek where obstacles are set up to train soldiers to be physically and mentally fit. Safety had never part of the concern and casualties are treated as part and parcel of training. Today, obstacle courses are still used in the Army for training purposes. We have the Standard Obstacle Course (SOC) and Additional Obstacle Course (AOC) in the training schools and High Confidence Course (HCC) in Hendon Camp, Commandos. Rope courses are also used by corporate, schools and for recreation purposes to create a shared sense of fate and to inculcate trust into teams.

Since the early 60’s, more emphasis is given to the safety aspect of the rope course, especially the high elements. This has resulted in more sophisticated safety devices and set ups that we see in today’s rope courses. The evolution of belaying using different kinds of friction devices and techniques started. The setting up of the rope courses have also changed to using cables as compared to using only ropes in the past. Proper harnesses are also created to ensure that participants are secured and safe even before embarking on the challenge.

Currently, there are many different friction devices that can be found in the market. The following is a list of the commonly used devices.

 Sticht Plate

It is a metal plate consisting of 2 holes drilled into it with a spring attached at one end. The purpose of the spring is to prevent the rope from being jammed when the Sticht Plate come in contact with the carabiner. This device is very suitable for the beginners as the running of the rope through the device is not as smooth as compared to the other devices, which make it easier to manage.

 Air Traffic Controller (ATC) / Tubular Device

The ATC’s function is similar to that of the Sticht Plate but allows a smoother flow of the rope through the device and is more suitable to use it for abseiling and rappelling as compared to the Stitch Plate. The setting up is also similar to the Sticht Plate only without the spring attached.


The Reverso is similar to that of the ATC giving it a very smooth flow of the rope and is commonly used for belaying and rappelling. The set up for belaying a lead climber is similar to that of the ATC but it can also be used to belay a seconder from the top of the climb by attaching a carabiner to the other loop of the Reverso and the Italian Hitch knot is made onto the carabiner using the main rope.


Gri-Gri is an auto locking device that will arrest the fall in cases where belayers are inattentive or incapacitated. However, it is not suitable for the use in lead climbing as the device is usually open for the use of the lead climber, for convenience, and it defeats the purpose of having the auto locking mechanism.

Figure 8

A Figure 8 can be used for belaying as some are specifically designed for such purposes. However, it is not recommended due to it tendency of rope twisting. It is mainly used for descending and rappelling.

With all these safety devices in place, one can be assured that he/she can embark the journey to challenge oneself getting up to the high elements and returning to ground level in one piece.

Some people will ask why we torture ourselves and subject ourselves to the great extend of fear and taking the high perceived risk of danger when taking on the challenge of the high elements. Well, in life, are we not subjected to high risks and difficult challenges and decisions? What can we do about it? We can walk away from it. We can face it alone and face a higher chance of failure and defeat. Or we can gather a team, come together and work out the challenges together.

So, is it possible to complete the high elements alone? It is possible but it takes great courage and experience to do so. So for those individuals who turn up early in the morning for a Teambuilding course, spending the morning indoor and only get to attempt the high elements in the afternoon, it is unlikely that he/she will want to attempt the high element alone. So a team is then set up to encourage, assist and protect the climber in order to complete the rope course.

While one person is climbing, four other people are actively involved in ensuring the safety of the climber. These four people form a belay team, one person being the belayer, equipped with one of the safety device as discussed earlier, he/she is directly connected to the climber. Another person being the anchor point, ensuring that the belayer do not get lifted up by the force created when the climber falls, another person being the backup belayer, to be there if the belayer fails his/her job and the last person being the back up of the back up belayer, he/she will also ensure that the loose rope is properly managed, otherwise can result in accidents.

So at the end of the day, what can we learn/gain from the experience of completing the high elements. As the climber, what are your experiences? As part of the belay team, what is the role that you play? What does the rope that attaches the climber to the belay team mean to you? Do you think you can or want to face the obstacles/challenges alone? What are some of these obstacles/challenges that you face in life or at work and how you can better manage them?